The National Liberation Army and the Colombian government initiated their third round of peace negotiations Monday on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador, with the aim of hashing out all terms needed for signing a bilateral cease-fire agreement prior to Pope Francis' visit to Colombia beginning Sept. 6.
ELN representatives have asked the Colombian government to end the criminalization of its members, to release imprisoned social leaders for participating in demonstrations and marches, and to take concrete measures to halt the widespread assassinations and attacks perpetrated against those who struggle for a truly participatory, democratic Colombia.
Earlier this month, Carlos Alfonso Negret, the Human Rights Ombudsman of Colombia, announced that 186 social leaders have been assassinated in Colombia since 2016 — 52 in 2017 alone.
In fact, the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation indicated that a social leader is killed every four days in Colombia.
Meanwhile, chief peace negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo said that the only way the Colombian government would sign a peace deal is if the ELN publicly declared that they would abandon kidnapping, attacks on electric and oil infrastructure and the use of antipersonnel landmines, according to El Espectador.
Bernardo Tellez, a member of the peace delegation representing the ELN, stated that the revolutionary group is committed to ending the armed conflict. However, he stressed that the initial cease-fire encompasses a temporary period of “more or less three months” which could be extended.
"We're just going to start specifying the conditions for a cease-fire. Our idea is that this bilateral cease-fire should start days or possibly weeks before the Pope's arrival in the Colombian city of Villavicencio,” Tellez explained.
The head peace manager of the negotiations, Carlos Velandia, stressed that only six weeks remain for the ELN and the government to reach a bilateral cease-fire, according to Radio Contagio.
"The best way to speak is to act. The two sides have said that they are willing to achieve a bilateral cease-fire, then the process of de-escalation begins," he said.
Participants in the peace negotiations include representatives from Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, Chile, and Norway.